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4 Life Lessons Every Grandparent Should Teach Their Grandkids

By Jennifer Kelly Geddes /

Setting a good example for your grandchildren may seem like a no-brainer, but grandparents are uniquely positioned to teach some real life skills. 

“Often grandparents can spend more quiet time with grandkids than parents, so this is a great opportunity to pass along a little wisdom,” suggests Karen Wrolson, M.S., a life coach and founder of Excite Ed!, an educational and motivational consultancy. Sitting, talking and really listening to your grandchildren as you share life lessons can make a big difference in how they live their lives—and often they’ll listen to you when they won’t listen to their parents. Four lessons you should teach...>>

Lesson #1: Life isn't always easy

What it teaches: Empathy. Tuning in to another person’s perspective is at the heart of empathy—and when taught correctly it might prevent future bullying.

How to begin: Doing a good turn for others is a classic way to explain empathy and also make a difference in your community. “Set up a regular volunteer activity so your grandchild can learn about people in need and see that he has the ability to change someone’s life for the better,” says Wrolson. Raking a neighbor’s leaves every week, helping to build a wheelchair ramp at a church or packing care bags for women and kids in a homeless shelter are just a few ways to start. As you work, share a time when you were in need of help or understanding. Your hard-earned experience on the receiving end of empathy makes the lesson real to your grandkids.

Lesson #2: Be thankful for everything 

What it teaches: Gratitude. It’s more than just saying ‘thanks’ when someone hands you something. Strive to teach kids to appreciate all they have.

How to begin: “Have your grandchild thank people fully, going beyond a simple ‘thanks’, and express why they like the gift or how they’ll use it,” says Wrolson. Make a greater impact by reviving the ancient art of the thank-you note—still an important skill in the digital age—and help her to pen one. You could also make a point of expressing gratitude when you’re together, even for the smallest pleasures (green lights on the road, beautiful sunshine, a smile at the grocery store). 

Lesson #3: Treat others as you would want to be treated

What it teaches: Respect. It’s admiration and kindness rolled into one, and a little bit goes a long way. It’s also a cool song (play it and dance together!).

How to begin: Talk about respecting everyone, including teachers, cashiers, store clerks, and then model it for your grandchild, insists Wrolson. 

Respect means listening carefully when someone speaks, looking that person in the eye and extending common courtesy (holding the door, offering a seat). It also covers personal property, so remind your grandchild to pick up toys so others won’t trip and fall and to put the sweatshirt she borrowed from her brother in his dresser, rather than leave it on the floor. This behavior can sometimes be forgotten from generation to generation so bring it back when you’re together. 

Because you’ve spent a longer life learning how to deal with people, you can demonstrate the advantages that come with showing respect. And whatever you do, curb your own comments and generalizations (‘cops are never where you need them’ or ‘kids today don’t understand anything’). These remarks label groups unfairly.

Lesson #4: Lying won't get you anywhere

What it teaches: Honesty. Telling the truth, even when it’s unpopular, is the hardest lesson of all.

How to begin: Everyone’s lied and regretted it so bring up a misgiving or two from your past and explain how you would have done things differently if you’d known better. Of course it’s tempting to fib here and there, but even the littlest of kids can detect an untruth. Avoiding a scary topic or whitewashing for safety reasons is bound to happen, though much of the time honesty can and should rule the roost. 

Teach truthfulness by sticking to your word. Kids will remember if you don’t do what you promised (i.e., take them to the park after naptime) and might view you as dishonest. Also explain why honesty is important and what can happen to trust if a child gets caught in a lie. The other side of this lesson is to praise your grandkid when he admits to doing something he shouldn’t have. Covering up a mistake or bad behavior is a natural tendency, so be sure to let him know how proud you are that he came to you with the truth. 

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